“. . .ou cela?” She balanced on one leg and shook the other.
People in the long queue behind me were enjoying the show.
“We don’t need to speak French to provide good service,” she said—or probably something like it—and took a little bow.
I shook my leg and held up 5 fingers, “Pour cinq personnes, s’il vous plait.”
More giggles from the crowd.
My parents and I were at G. Detou (58, rue Tiquetonne), stop number two on a culinary walking tour of Paris drawn up by a good foodie friend. The store’s name is a pun, according to Paris food author and writer Clotilde Dusoulier. “G. Detou” sounds like “J’ai de tout“, meaning “I have everything” and I believe it.
The store is divided into two parts. One was packed to the rafters with weird and wonderful foodstuff and ingredients from all over France. Some of it I recognised: chocolate, mustards, teas, large bags of fresh nuts, fruit in jars, and sardines. Much I did not know existed or how it might be used: flavoured essences, metallic edible balls, flower petals, a multitude of different sugars and honeys. Fresh food like meat and fish were in the second section located in the store front next door.
After 15 minutes in the queue, I was finally in front of the counter and, with the help of a few charades, had just ordered the main event of our Christmas dinner: Confit de Canard.
My first exposure to Duck Confit was at my landlady’s house in May. She graciously offered to loan me a scarf for a wedding and make me dinner.
“I think the first one is the best: the white one with the small flowers,” she said. I looked at the 6 scarves laid across the bed.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The one with the tiny flowers . . . ,” she said and picked up one of the scarves. “This one.” She handed it to me. It was white, but the blue flowers on the scarf were the size of volleyballs. My landlady functioned so well I often forgot she was almost totally blind.
Misidentifying the scarf was no big deal but I was very concerned about dinner. Before we went to her room to choose a scarf, she arranged white, frozen duck legs in a pan and said they would only take 10-15 minutes to heat through in the oven. Frozen to cooked in 10-15 minutes? Had she taken the wrong pan out of the fridge and not noticed? Clutching the large patterned scarf to my chest, I was anxious about how to politely handle a situation where we all cut into raw, cold duck legs.
However, they weren’t raw and were steaming hot. The duck legs hadn’t been frozen at all. The white film I saw as she arranged the legs in the pan was duck fat, not ice crystals. To make Duck Confit, duck legs are salt cured and then slow cooked. To preserve the legs, they are submerged in duck fat and stored in a can/tin. The fat, solid at room temperature, clings to the skin, and melts while the legs heat.
Ahh, my first duck confit—the tender, tender meat and the rich, salty, plumy taste—where had it been all of my life?
Despite my description of heaven, I had a bit of convincing to do when I suggested duck confit to my husband a few months ago.
“Meat from a tin?” he asked.
It did feel so wrong to venture into a food area also populated by Spam, corned beef and Vienna sausages, but I had tasted the truth. I knew I needed to be brave and bought a tin of Confit de Canard from Monoprix, an upmarket supermarket. I reasoned that if I paid mre for it, it would have to be good.
I put the tin in a bath of warm water to melt the fat. I removed the legs and put them skin side down in frying pan. I threw in some sliced potatoes to let them cook in the duck fat. When the skin was crispy, I served the legs with the fried potatoes and green beans. After one bite, my husband declared with a big smile, “This is Christmas dinner.”
And so it was, and mighty tasty, too!
I would like to say a special thank you to my parents and friend who helped make Christmas dinner such a treat.